Aligning TCOM and Systems Theory


by: Ken McGill, LMFT

In many ways the CANS, the FAST (the family version of the Communimetrics approach to measurement) and the ANSA align with the foundational definition of a system as outlined by Ludwig von Bertalanffy almost 40 years ago. A system must consist of four distinct components:

  1. Objects: the parts, elements or variables within the system. These may be physical or abstract or both, depending on the nature of the system.
  2. A System of Attributes: the qualities or properties of the system and its objects.
  3. Internal Relationships: objects in a system have internal relationships.
  4. The Environment: a system contains things that affect one another within this environment, forming a larger pattern that is different from any of the parts.

This stems from general systems theory, which dates back to the early 1950s, beginning with the pioneering work by Ludwig von Bertalanffy at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.[i]

General systems theory, which is often used to inform family-based interventions, relates to the general science of ‘wholeness.’ Wholeness can be utilized for scientific study when there is concern for the ‘organized whole.’ The significance of general systems theory as outlined by von Bertalanffy is a scientific attempt to bridge the gap between probabilities and outcomes and/or theorize the probability concerning the likelihood of subsequent events happening.

This systems theory perspective seems to align with the purposes behind the TCOM tools. Individuals, children/adolescents, or adults can and should be viewed from a systems perspective, especially when using the CANS. The family is something more than simply a collection of individuals, and so are many cultural and systemic environments that people live within. The CANS/ANSA/FAST tools should take this into account.

Fortunately, there are already many points of alignment between systems theory and TCOM tools:

  • In the CANS, the person-in-environment definition of both needs and strengths, as well as the inclusion of the Caregiver section, is aligned with this systems theory perspective.
  • The FAST has a domain generally referred to as the ‘Family Together’ to help tell the story of the family system above and beyond the stories of the individual family members. The FAST also views the person being assessed as a physiological, psychological and socio-cultural-behavioral being living within a larger cultural system and connected to family of origin.
  • Similarly, The ANSA charts the adult needs and strengths within the context of that individual’s family of origin, current family constellation, work and community—all systems.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER: When using the CANS and the FAST to chart youth/family needs and strengths, shouldn’t it be done within the systems framework of that individual’s family, school and community?  And when using the ANSA in the diagnosing and treatment of adults, wouldn’t it make sense to utilize systemic theory to assist this process?

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[i] von Bertalanffy, L. (1968). General System Theory Foundations, Development, Applications. New York, NY: George Braziller, Inc.

General systems theory, as outlined by Von Bertalanffy, aims to:

  • Enable integration in the various natural and social sciences
  • Integrate a general theory of systems
  • Use theory to create exact theory in the non-physical fields of science
  • Develop unifying principles running ‘vertically’ through the universe of the individual sciences, bringing us nearer to the goal of the unity of science
  • Argue for much-needed integration in scientific education

For more information about this post and how to connect to it’s author, visit the series home page here!

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